Response to Overcoming Racial Prejudice

To the author of Overcoming Racial Prejudice,

Other readers please see the formentioned to blog before reading ahead.

Good post, but I think that you have missed a couple of points.

I was first introduced to the studies that you described above in the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell explained, like you, that white participants in these studies had a hard time linking black faces with positive attributes. Gladwell also described white people’s inability to control their initial judgment of black faces more negatively than a white faces, implying that whites are unknowingly racist.

However, Gladwell went on to explain that the results were no different among black participants. Black participants in the same studies had equally racist tendencies toward other Blacks. They too had trouble identifying black faces with positive attributes and showed an equally strong tendency of trying to control their negative reactions toward black faces.

This evidence makes me question your suggestion that familiarity with others “eliminates the tendency to see others in terms of generic stereotypes.” Most black people are certainly most familiar with other Blacks. Demographic studies show that Blacks predominately live in areas with black majorities, go to black churches, and participate in mostly black organizations. If your reasoning that familiarity “allows you to see them as similar to you- no matter how different they appear” is true, it would imply that black people see other Blacks as having similarly negative attributes. When your reasoning is applied to the results of the studies presented in Gladwell’s book, it suggests that black people understand that they should not be strongly associated with positive attributes. It would legitimize the claim that Whites are better than Blacks. Blacks are certainly familiar with other black people, but they still link white faces with positive attributes.

We all know that white people are not better than black people. In fact, as you pointed out, there are no real genetic differences between the “races.” So if a lack of familiarity is not creating racism, what is?

I would argue that racism does not come from people not knowing or accepting other ‘races”. I believe that racism is the product of history. The unknowingly racist tendencies of Whites and Blacks result from the deep rooted idea that Blacks are inferior to Whites in America, dating back to slavery. This historic perspective of blacks is perpetuated by the popular representation of black majority prisons, crime rates, and white dominated universities.

What will change this historically false idea?  TIME.   We now know the idea of “races” is an empty one. It will just take time and the equilibration the “Black” minority and “White” majority in socio-economic status. I think that the word “race” will quickly fade away when that is achieved.

I hope that it happens sooner than later.

Thanks for the post. Very thought provoking.

-Alec Petersen

~ by anonymous on April 20, 2008.

3 Responses to “Response to Overcoming Racial Prejudice”

  1. After reading this post, I was reminded of a Martin Luther King, Jr. quotation from “I Have a Dream.” King states, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” Although time may erase the thought of “race,” I believe King would argue that it doesn’t mean we should passively wait for this to happen. Action must be taken to overcome racial prejudice.

  2. I did not want to suggest that we should just sit around and wait for time to correct the problem. I simply wanted to point out that a history of socio-economic disparity was the biggest contributor to racism. This racist history is not easy to erase from the American subconscious. To change the American perspective takes time, like learning to write with a different hand. These processes take time AND effort.

    You are correct, action must be taken to eliminate racism.

    I hope that activism and heightened awareness will continue to shrink the amount of time needed to eliminate this problem.

  3. You are absolutely right that Black people also have the same negative connotations associated with being Black. However, it is also true that all of the studies I mentioned with Whites and the implications of seeing dissimilar others as different can be reversed and said for Blacks as well. Blacks also do not have activation of the region in the PFC that is used to make personal decisions when they are considering Whites. Thus, racial discrimination is, I believe, a combination of familiarity and historically-based social values. I did not emphasize this fact in my post, so thank you for bringing it up. I just wanted to encourage everyone to take an active stance in overcoming the tendency to have prejudices.

    ~ B2

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